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Zeller shows confidence in N.C. Central game

When David Wear grabbed a rebound and found a wide-open Tyler Zeller downcourt in the first half of UNC’s 89-42 pasting of N.C. Central, a scene eerily reminiscent of last year’s Kentucky game began to unfold.

As Zeller neared the basket, an Eagles defender began to close on him and attempted to foul UNC’s forward before he recorded an easy dunk.

Zeller broke his left wrist on a similar play last year, sidelining him for half of the season, when a Kentucky player undercut him as he went up on a breakaway.

But he said he wasn’t nervous.

“It was one of those things — I caught the ball and saw him coming, so I wasn’t really worried about it. I was more worried Monday with one of the ones I finger-rolled,” Zeller said. “It’s one of those things that happens one time and you get over it.”

Without hesitation, Zeller elevated and emphatically threw down a one-handed slam, inducing roars from the Smith Center crowd.

And while Zeller showed just how unconcerned he was about possible injury again, at least one of his teammates was when he left his feet.

“I got a little bit nervous there,” forward Marcus Ginyard said. “I always get a little bit nervous when you’re running a break and a guy’s trailing like that, but just glad he landed on his two feet.”

But Zeller’s slam was just one scene of a solid all-around game from the 7-footer.

Zeller was a perfect six-for-six for the floor, scoring all but two of his 12 points in the paint. He also grabbed six rebounds and mixed it up inside all game for loose balls with N.C. Central defenders.

He wasn’t flawless enough for his coach, though.

“Six-for-six ain’t bad,” coach Roy Williams said. “He did miss the free throw, though.”

Coming off the bench, Zeller provided a big spark for UNC’s offense.

At the beginning of North Carolina’s 32-3 run to put the game away, Zeller showed grit reminiscent of Tyler Hansbrough.

On a loose ball under UNC’s basket, Zeller pushed through a couple of NCCU defenders to grab an offensive rebound, then loaded himself up to make a strong move toward the rim.

The result was the same as Williams had seen so many times from Hansbrough.

Zeller jumped and absorbed contact but still found enough strength to finish his layup in addition to the foul call.

“He’s going to give us a great threat off the bench,” Williams said. “Right now that’s the plan — to have him come off the bench similar to what Danny Green did. Come in and give some firepower offensively and let us run the floor.”

The 12-point output was the same Zeller scored in the season opener against Florida International on Monday, but Deon Thompson said he appeared a lot more comfortable on the floor Wednesday.

When told of Thompson’s assessment, Zeller agreed.

“I felt a lot more comfortable today, just a lot more relaxed,” Zeller said. “We’ve all got to get into our own games, and I felt like I got in my game very well.”

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